(Too) Early Testing

Friday, February 05, 2010

Jennifer Senior, contributing editor to New York Magazine, disputes the value of intelligence testing for 4-year-olds in "The Myth of the Gifted Child." She's joined by Samuel J. Meisels, president of Chicago’s Erikson Institute.


Samuel J. Meisels and Jennifer Senior

Comments [18]

ham from rye

If one of the characteristics for being gifted and talented is that a child is self-motivated, how could a test ever put a number value to that? Testing is a way to discipline kids these days; to put them in a room and have them follow rules. It could be good if that is what you want for your 4 year old. But aren't four year olds at that age of asking questions?

I'm a student teacher who was on my lunch break the other day in the teacher's lounge. A teacher needed to test some "gifted and talented" kindergarten kids so she asked all the teachers in the lounge to please leave the room. I picked up my ham on rye and finished my lunch in the hallway. A "Testing Do Not Enter" sign was placed on the door. This kept other teachers from using their teacher's lounge. If I wasn't just a measly student teacher I would have said something to the administration like "since when do kids' testing get to take over the teacher's lounge?"

When the kids were on a break from the test, they ran out of the room. One of the kids came up to me and asked me what I was eating. I told him that was a good question!

Feb. 05 2010 03:22 PM
Susan from Morningside Heights

In recent years the DOE switched from using the Stanford-Binet, which is an IQ test, to the Olsat and BSRA, both of which make the S-B seem like a model of egalitarianism in testing for giftedness. Historically, "gifted" meant being in the top 2-3 percentiles on the Stanford-Binet (originally developed to test for mental retardation, but then proved good at picking up extremes at either end of the intelligence curve).
Now the DOE is testing for "school readiness," not giftedness. The BSRA, in fact, tests for verbal learning disabilities. Plenty of children who test as intellectually gifted on the S-B, turn out to have dyslexia and other learning disabilities once in school. The BSRA screens those kids out, so should be considered illegal, since learning disabilities can be remediated (should DOE ever take that on!), and under IDEA should not impede access to G&T programs. All that said, I suggest G&Ts be dropped, and "acceleration" provided wherever and to whomever it is needed.

Feb. 05 2010 12:55 PM
Yvette from Manhattan (LES)

I would like to add that I do not believe you should test prep your children other than what the DOE recommends. They give you about a 16 question practice test in which you are sort of role playing with your child. I read out the questions just like a tester would. This was all about making her comfortable with the process so that she is not distracted about the process when it actually happens. We did it the night before (I didn't read until that night they recommend you doing this a week prior to the test) and the following morning she was more than happy to go with the tester. According to my child she got a 100 right! I'll have to wait to see the results :0)

Feb. 05 2010 12:46 PM
Ellen K from Yonkers

We can criticize the gifted test may not be perfect and that all schools should do more to give students more enrichment, but let's not forget that there are students with higher than average IQs and they do have different needs in their education environments.

I have two boys who went through the PEARLS program for the gifted children in Yonkers and have done wonderfully well. The older one started reading when he was 2. We would not have been able to put the boys through private schools to meet their needs have we not had the gifted program.

I don't understand why this country is so against meritocracy in education. Perhaps we should treat high IQ as a disability so that we don't feel guilty of giving the gifted students different treatment.

Feb. 05 2010 12:39 PM
N Danziger from NY

I have had 3 children go through NYC DOE gifted elementary school system. It has changed a lot over the last 14 years. My experience has seen a tremendous decline in the quality of the education offered to my children.
Testing a child at the age of 4 is not perfect. But many children can be identified at that age as gifted learners. Some children do need to be a little older before they can be successfully identified as academically gifted. this does not mean you should not test and place 5 year olds, it only means you must test children at 6 and 7 as well. There need to be classes that begin for children when they are ready, some are ready and benefit in kindergarten and others are ready in 2nd or 3rd grade or later. All of these children deserve to be in classes that meet their academic needs.
I do find it very disturbing that parents "prep" their children for these placement assessments. People do have to feel their children will be placed in an appropriate class, that meets the needs of their child, but parents also have to not wear their child's "IQ" as a badge of honor!

Feb. 05 2010 12:32 PM
mother from BKLYN

GINA: Something like 70% of kids who are flagged as gifted at 4 years of age are later determined to not be gifted at all. Testing may be free, but if a test has only a 30% chance of being a reliable predictor - is it worth taking? Is it worth public school budgets to spend the money at that age with such a high rate of false positives?

Maybe your child’s g/t class overcrowding is due to the simple fact that too many children who are not g/t shouldn't even be there.

-Mom to a superfluously titles g/t 4 year old.

Feb. 05 2010 12:25 PM
Marge from Queens, NY

This discussion is so Manhattan-centric in some ways - so much angst over 4-year olds. In Queens and all around the city, self-contained G&T classes let children in at every grade level (if there's room) and of course, many kids from general ed. backgrounds get accepted to elite high schools like Stuy, Bx Science etc.

I don't understand the big emphasis on Hunter Elementary in this article - not all the kids who get accepted there end up graduating from Hunter High - in fact of Hunter's graduating class of 180 or so each year, only 30-35 are from the Elementary. The rest come from all over the city (many from Queens)...

My 12-year-old was IQ-tested over 130 when he was 4 and accepted into a self-contained G&T class and has flourished (he's now 12). My 8 year old tested when he was 5 and didn't get accepted, but he's now in the "top class" at his local school and thus with other high-achieving students - thus the teacher is able to move through the curriculum at a faster pace and challenge the kids so they don't get bored.

Feb. 05 2010 12:09 PM
Yvette from Manhattan (LES)

I have a 10 year old and a 4 year old in the public school system. I had my 4 year old take the test this year but it's from my experience with my oldest and seeing my 4 year olds interest for information that I chose this route. In a gifted class my child will not have to deal with a slower pace of learning (which can cause boredom) in order to allow children with all sorts of learning disabilities the time to process the lesson. In my daughters current school children with learning disabilities or behavior (which is really my issue) are put in regular classes creating a CTT class. My oldest has had several problems with bullying from the children with behavior problems. My attempt to avoid these issues is to have my youngest placed in a gifted class. Of course I might run into different problems which I won't know till I'm there. Hoping for the best.

Feb. 05 2010 12:08 PM
abby goldstein

I have twins. One got a high enough score on the gifted test and was in a gifted program in elementary school. This was a terrible social and learning experience. It was a very white middle class group. Luckily she ended up at School of the Future for middle school and Bard High school Early College and is now at Reed College in Oregon. My other not "gifted" daughter was in a regular program in the same elementary school. She had great teachers and a great social and learning experience with a wide mix of kids. She went on to Stuyvesant Highschool and is now an honor student at Beloit college. My twin are a perfect experiment as to how the gifted program does not work and you can not test a child for "giftedness" at such an early age.

thank you

Feb. 05 2010 12:07 PM
Patrick from Brooklyn, Park Slope


The IQ tests are actually showing validity from 3years old and up. I.e. differences in 3 years olds are reliably reproduced in 18 years old and on.
In any case, the argument that athletes would not have high IQ is neither here nor there. (In fact, the studies I have seen shows that athletes have HIGHER IQ.) The "giftedness" in question is not athleticism, there could be special schools for such gifts of course, but it is a dumb argument to say that "gifted" MUST include ability to throw a ball.

Feb. 05 2010 12:04 PM

gifted? what about just a smart child? what about a good kid? don't those count to have an enriched learning experience. Seriously? Also, read the book, Outliers especially towards the end; it's an eye opener.

Feb. 05 2010 12:02 PM
Paul Bloess from Queens

I have a 4yr old who just took the G&T test last week. It is my understanding that the test helps place children together who are "more advanced" and tries to place these children in a class together so they do not get bored/distracted as they might in a class with kids who might not be as advanced at that age. The curriculum is the same, the pace might be quicker based on the students knowledge.

Feb. 05 2010 12:01 PM
Maude from Park Slope

I am 34 years old now, was tested as having a very low IQ when I was young. I was put into the remedial classes through elementary school. I ended up struggling through and getting into better classes in middle and high school. Now, I'm doing very well as a painter and designer, but I still struggle with feeling that I'm dumb on a daily basis.

Feb. 05 2010 11:58 AM
hjs from 11211

for that matter the SAT is meaningless.

Feb. 05 2010 11:55 AM

I took an IQ test when I was 4 years old for a public-school gifted program in the Bronx. I was found to have a high IQ and qualified for the program, and stayed with a group of other similarly prescreened kids through eighth grade -- and about half of us went on to Bronx Science.

I don't remember much about it, but my mom has told me that I didn't know what straw was -- like on a farm -- and I didn't know what a puddle was. I hope those gaps in my knowledge didn't totally freak her out back then!

Feb. 05 2010 11:54 AM

The NYC school system allows students whose families have moved to keep attending the school where they started, and their siblings can also attend when they eventually start kindergarten. There are students at our local elementary school whose families no longer live in the neighborhood, let alone the borough.

But back on topic - should I have my almost 4 yr old tested to attend a public gifted and talented program, or let him go to the local school where his sister already is?

Feb. 05 2010 11:53 AM
Gina from Brooklyn

I'm bracing myself for another anti g/t segment, news article, etc. I read the article and would love to hear the other side to the fact that maybe it's a good thing to test children early. I also take offense to the statement that kids are set after that if they get in. Please. Set? And does the writer have a child in public school? My child did test well, and I've got nothing but grief since she was placed in the g/t program. We opted not to put her in the citywide system, but the local one which is nearby. Suddenly the g/t program is the problem with the overcrowding in the school. Really? Why do news organizations miss that overcrowding is due to faking of addresses. In this school, it is common practice for one household to have up to seven fake addresses just to go to the school.

And what ivy league school did the writer attend. Should everyone have the chance to write for the magazine. Afterall, there are no such thing as gifted writers, just writers. The political correctness is getting old. And frankly, the test the DOE offers is free and available to everyone. I think people are mad that they can no longer brown nose a principal or wave cash to contribute to the PTA in order to get child placed.

Feb. 05 2010 11:11 AM
JT from Long Island

I witnessed part of the testing used for 3-4 year olds and a local school and it didn't make sense. Children that age can perform badly because of boredom, shyness, hunger or any number of distractions in the room. My son sometimes gave wrong answers because he thought it was funny. I don't think testing at that age can show anything conclusive but it seems that the tests are unavoidable nowadays.

Feb. 05 2010 10:17 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.